By Denise Yearian

Preschool is a wonderful time of growth in a young child’s life – a time to broaden his horizons, develop social skills and ignite a love for learning. To help your child prepare to the new environment and ease into the routine, consider these 10 tips.

Talk it up. Weeks before preschool begins, prepare your child by using positive and encouraging words. If you drive by the building where he will be attending school, say, “Oh, look! There’s your new school. You are going to have so much fun there!” Tell your child that he is growing up and this means he gets to spend more time learning and playing with other children his age. If you, as a parent, have any reservations, choose your words carefully. Even from a young age, children can pick upon what their parents are and are not saying!

Stop by to visit. Several weeks before school begins, take your child to the facility so he can familiarize himself with his new surroundings. Go as many times as your child needs to feel comfortable. If you know which classroom he will be in, stop by for a visit. If possible, let him meet the teacher and play with some of the toys in the room. Before leaving, take him to the playground and let him spend a few minutes swinging, going down the slide and sifting sand in the sandbox.

Invite others to play. If, for some reason, your child has had little interaction with his peers, invite several children over to your house to play. It does not have to be a day-long event; one or two hours is a sufficient amount of time for children to begin learning skills such as toy sharing and peer politeness. Schedule this time when the children will be well-rested—early morning or after naptime. Also plan a few activities but allow plenty of time for free play.

Introduce school materials. Long before formal education begins your child should become familiar with books, puzzles, games, crayons, scissors, glue, and clay. To ease into a structured environment, set aside time each day for you and your child to work on puzzles together, play games, color, cut and glue various items and mold things out of clay. Start with just a few minutes each day and gradually increase the amount of time you spend doing it. While you are participating in an activity together, tell your child that this is just one of many fun things he will be doing in preschool. Be alert for signs he is getting bored with a given activity and stop before he gets too restless.

Read all about it. One of the best ways to prepare your child for preschool is to read juvenile materials about first-day jitters. Library shelves and bookstores are stacked high with stories of children and animals that were afraid to go to school. Through books like these, your child will learn that he is not the only one with worries and apprehensions about attending school. Most important, he will be able to see the characters to the end of the story where they meet new friends, have lots of fun and learn that their concerns were in vain.

Establish a routine. If you haven’t already, be sure your child has a daily routine. While it need not be as rigid as a day of preschool, structured play time in the morning (see “introduce school materials”), story time after lunch and outdoor play at the same time every day will help your child establish a routine. Consistency is key.

Go shopping. Nothing builds excitement quicker than taking your child out to buy a new lunchbox, backpack, school clothes or other needed school items. Make a day of it by first stopping by the school, shopping a little and then enjoying a fun lunch together.

Take a dry run. The day before school begins, get your child up and out the door at the time he will need to be ready for school. If he is attending a morning program, take him for a fun breakfast after you have made the dry run at school. If he is attending an afternoon program, stop by for a special ice cream cone to celebrate his upcoming day.

Watch and wait (if necessary). On the first day, if your child eagerly welcomes his new environment, give him a hug, and tell you will be back in a little while. If, however, he seems uncertain, tell him you will stay, but only for a few minutes. During this time, introduce him to other children, show him some of the toys and pictures around the room and help him get settled. When the time limit is up, give him a hug, reassure him of your love and leave quickly. Although there may be tears, your child will more than likely stop crying and start enjoying himself soon.

Listen up. At the end of each day, find a block of uninterrupted time to listen as your child shares about his experiences. Ask what he liked about school and if there were any things he did not like. If he is having a hard time articulating details, break it down by activities— “What crafts did you do?” “What books did you read?” What games did you play?” “Who did you sit with at lunch/snack time?” Then encourage your child to always do his best, obey the rules and be respectful of the teachers and others, and chances are, he will have a great time.

-Denise Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children and six grandchildren.

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